Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 119 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s original novel stays pretty close to the Victorian-era source text, so characters drink and smoke, there is some violence in the form of a shooting and some sheep plummeting over the edge of a cliff, and some kissing, an implied sex scene, and some fondling.
Carey Mulligan is a steadying presence in the period piece ‘Far From the Madding Crowd,’ adding steeliness to the film’s themes about gender expectations and social class.
By Roxana Hadadi
It can be difficult to make a period piece work, especially when adapting an original text: alter too much of the tone and you lose the feeling of the novel, but stick too close and you might make something faithful but boring for current audiences (like this year’s “Effie Gray,” starring Dakota Fanning). “Far From the Madding Crowd,” an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1847 novel, straddles the line: characters are changed to be more sympathetic, but most of the plot twists remain intact. It’s a film that will work for literary-minded parents and older teenagers, with thoughtful questions raised about love and class.
Hardy’s original work was published in serial format, so the plot is full of cliffhangers and twists and other narrative choices to keep readers interested. All of that is condensed here so the final third of the film becomes a series of ever-dramatically-escalating reveals, but that will be exciting for younger audiences. Who dueled who? Who killed who? Who ended up revealing their love for who? The drama is fueled way up, but which teenagers haven’t liked that?
“Far From the Madding Crowd” focuses on the young woman Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan, of “The Great Gatsby,” playing that “The Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins has referenced as inspiration for Katniss), who grows up poor but well-educated. Growing into a self-possessed woman, Bathsheba catches the eye of successful but plain sheep farmer Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts), whose proposal she rejects because of their disparity in economic standing. But then, their fortunes change: a new sheepdog accidentally plummets all of Gabriel’s flock off the edge of a cliff (it’s as depressing as it sounds, and it may shock younger viewers into tears), ruining him, while Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm, making her financially stable all on her own. Soon Gabriel is working for Bathsheba to make ends meet, and privy to her future romantic endeavors.
And there are many men who want to take their place at Bathsheba’s side – or, as she drily suggests, make her their property. There is the older, wealthy, established William (Michael Sheen, of “The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box”), who has failed at wooing women before. And there is the dashing but reckless military man, Troy (Tom Sturridge, of “Effie Gray”), whose bright red suit coat is an emblem of how much he’s going to shake things up. Bathsheba is most attracted to Troy, but her life would be easiest with William, yet she might be happiest with Gabriel. Which one to choose? And why should she have to choose anyone at all?
Bathsheba needs to be an empathetic presence to not only sell how these men desire her, but also to make her musings about gender and class interesting, too, and Mulligan – so empathetic in roles as varied as “The Great Gatsby” and “Drive” – is up to the task. “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language designed by men to express theirs,” she says, and Mulligan nicely demonstrates Bathsheba’s inner struggles about who to choose as her life partner, at a time when being an independent woman wasn’t acceptable.
For viewers, what will be most compelling (aside from the shocking deaths and marriages of the final act) is how Bathsheba navigates the world around her and people’s varying expectations. For parents and teen viewers, the film’s plot could lead to discussions about gender dynamics, the flightiness of love, and the economics of marriage, especially as Bathsheba initially gets what she wants but realizes that what she wanted was more than just a husband, but a partner. “I’d like to be a bride at a wedding, but without a husband,” Bathsheba says, and that could be a jumping-off point for various analyses of the film’s treatment of men and women.
“It is my intention to astonish you all,” Bathsheba says to her farm workers, and “Far From the Madding Crowd” uses strong performances and beautiful cinematography to draw viewers in. Although it feels rushed and the ending is a bit of a disappointment, “Far From the Madding Crowd” and its boundaries of gender and social class feel more modern than you would expect.
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